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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Shut up or go to jail

Oh, come on -- criminal libel?

 FORT COLLINS, Colo. —  A man accused of making unflattering online comments about his former lover and her attorney on Craigslist has been charged with two counts of criminal libel.

"It's not a charge you see a lot of," Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said of the 1800s-era state law that can put people in jail for the content of their speech or writing.

The story quotes a First Amendment attorney who sais seeking criminal libel charges could have a "chilling" effect on free speech in Colorado, particulary over the Internet. Well, yeah. Criminal libel had its heyday in the Star Chamber period, when it was a favorite tool of political repression. Its increasingly rare use since then has generally been reserved for such things as breaches of the peace. It's difficult enough in a free society to balance the robust discussion we need with the tort claims of libel used to keep the discussion at a certain civil level. The guy facing charges said some pretty despicable things about his former lover, but, as in the case of the nutty gun-totin' ball player posted about recently, we can't always choose perfect models for our causes. The law should be what the law should be.